[ Design Philosophies | Design-Build Team | CATIA | Testing and ETOPS ]

Computer - Aided Design/ New Design Techniques

What is CATIA?

The Boeing 777 is the first jetliner to be 100 percent digitally designed using three-dimensional solids technology. Throughout the design process, the airplane was "preassembled" on the computer, eliminating the need for a costly, full-scale mock-up. The 777 Division is using CATIA (computer-aided, three-dimensional interactive application) and ELFINI (Finite Element Analysis System), both developed by Dassault Systemes of France and licensed in the United States through IBM. Designers also use EPIC (Electronic Preassembly Integration on CATIA) and other digital preassembly applications developed by Boeing. IBM and Boeing enhanced the software and added a human touch by creating Catia man, a computer-simulated mechanic who can climb inside the digital airplane to show how difficult it is for a real person to reach problem areas and make repairs. One of its early discoveries was that a human mechanic could not reach a navigation light on the roof of the plane to change the light bulb. Without the digital mechanic, Boeing might not have found out about the bulb problem until it caused a flight delay at an airport.


Instead of producing drawings on reams of paper, designers store their work inside the memory of eight IBM mainframes. In the Puget Sound area, approximately 1,700 individual computer workstations are linked to the largest mainframe installation of its kind in the world, consisting of four IBM mainframe computers. This mainframe cluster also is linked to mainframes and workstation installations in Japan; Wichita, Kan.; Philadelphia; and other locations.

Digital Preassembly

Gone are the days of drafting tables and full - sized, costly metal mockups. Instead, engineers put parts together in a computer simulation to test them before the manufacturing begins. Using the three-dimensional solid images generated on the computer, the 777 airplane can be preassembled to position parts correctly, ensuring a proper fit. Like a "spell - check" device for airplanes, the computer tells engineers if parts don't fit. Designers can then move the parts around or adjust them through computer modeling. Boeing is hoping that through computer design and assembly it will have 50 % less rework on problems discovered at the factory after the planes are delivered. Workers are finding that many of the parts fit together more precisely, eliminating need for additional tooling on the factory floor. "Digital pre - assembly is the savior of the factory floor," says Bob Cullen, Boeing's 777 general supervisor of aft/body sections. Floor beams, for example, were assembled in three weeks instead of the anticipated 19 weeks. Boeing has used computer - aided design on other planes, but the 777 marks the first time it has designed and pre - assembled a commercial jet solely by computer.

System Benefits

Improved quality of work; reduced changes and errors, and less rework, resulting in lower costs.